June 2007

Vandoren V16 Sax Mouthpieces

You don’t have to be much of a detective to discern the meaning in Vandoren’s statement that its V16 Series sax mouthpiece “captures the famous jazz saxophone sounds of the ’50s and ’60s.” The V16 is obviously modeled after the classic Meyer of that era—what we mouthpiece geeks call the “New York” Meyer, differentiating it from later, inferior versions. Vandoren can’t come right out and say it, since a competitor still manufactures mouthpieces bearing the Meyer name. But that’s the implication, and it’s a haughty claim. To Vandoren’s credit, the V16 stands up to the comparison.

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Vandoren V16 Sax Mouthpieces

I’ve strayed on occasion, but for the most part, I’ve used the same New York Meyer 5M on alto for 35 years. In choosing it (or, to be more accurate, having it chosen for me) at the tender age of 10, I was following in the very hip footfalls of Cannonball Adderley, Lou Donaldson, Charles McPherson and Phil Woods, to name just a few illustrious Meyer devotees. Other manufacturers made great mouthpieces back then, but the sound of modern-jazz alto was (and still is) largely the sound of the New York Meyer. Over the years, other mouthpiece makers have sought to recapture the greatness of the vintage Meyers. Vandoren has gotten it right.

Vandoren’s ebonite V16 alto mouthpiece is available with five tip openings: A5, A6, A7, A8 and A9 (each size corresponds roughly to its Meyer equivalent). All models are available in two chamber sizes, small or medium. The ebonite V16 tenor mouthpieces come in a single chamber size and four tip openings: T7, T8, T9 and T10. A soprano-model V16 is also available, and all V16s can be purchased in metal or hard-rubber versions. For review purposes, I focused on the A8 Medium, A8 Small and T7 models made of hard rubber.

Eyeballing a V16 alto piece side-by-side with my late-’60s vintage Meyer 5M, it’s apparent that the V16 is largely the same in most respects: The shape, thickness of the rails, baffle, tips and profile are so similar as to be nearly identical. While the small chamber is round like my old Meyer, the medium chamber has an ever-so-slight “U” shape. The V16 also has a brass ring around the shank where the Meyer’s etched double-line would be. Naturally, the V16 is polished to a beautiful black sheen, in stark contrast to my greenish old 5M. Sometimes I forget that mouthpieces can actually be pretty.

The V16 is similar to my Meyer in performance, as well. I’m accustomed to a smaller tip opening, so it took awhile for my embouchure to get used to the considerably more open A8. After spending time with it, however, I developed a fondness for the V16. While both the small and medium chambers were exceptionally free-blowing over the horn’s entire range, I preferred the A8M overall. Of the two pieces, the medium chamber produced a fuller, harmonically richer tone with a stronger bottom, which, for me, characterizes the ideal alto sound. The small chamber gave me a smaller, drier tone. Both felt great to play.

In appearance, the V16 T7 tenor mouthpiece is the alto version on steroids. It even feels somewhat alto-like, making it a good choice for the doubler who prefers to keep a consistent embouchure when switching between horns. The T7 also gave me a tone on tenor similar to what I get on alto—dark, with a slight crystalline edge in all registers. I’ve never played a Meyer tenor piece I liked (admittedly, I’ve only played a few). I like the T7 very much, so in the case of the tenor version, the V16 has surpassed the original.

Like most saxophonists, I’ve spent way too much time searching for that elusive slab of hard rubber that will cure my sound of all its ills. Inevitably, I find the closest thing to a magic bullet is my Meyer 5M. It’s nice to know, however, that if something happened to “Old Reliable,” the V16 would be a worthy replacement.

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